Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Manifesto -- Part Six (A)

Chapter 3, “Literature Review,” of Effective Church Operational Systems is nearly 60 pages long. There is much in it that could not be reviewed in a few blog posts. However, overall it explains the leadership philosophy behind the plan to transform All Saints Parish.

Specifically targeted is the transformation of individuals in leadership positions. The chapter opens thus, “It is good that the Christian Church wants to be successful—God wants the Church to succeed. However, growth doesn’t necessarily mean that what is happening is good…Therefore, from a Christian perspective, growth alone is not the goal; creating healthy Christian communities that bring individuals to transformative Christian maturity is. It is not just about getting them “saved,” (getting them through the door—salvation), but also about making disciples who grow in holiness—sanctification.” (Emphasis added.) Immediately following is the goal of bringing individuals to a “transformative Christian maturity” of which holiness is a hallmark.

The inference is that once a Christian professes Christ he is forever saved and will automatically enter heaven upon his earthly death. This is the salvation doctrine of sola fide –faith alone (see here, here, and here). This does not seem to be a Catholic understanding of salvation.

Later in the chapter, Deacon Dean writes, “Fear of the implications that our mental models may be wrong can seriously close the mind of a Christian leader. For example, it was not long ago when large segments of Protestants and Catholics wrote each other off as condemned. To consider the alternative may challenge the very nature of how we understand salvation itself.” (Emphasis added.) It must be hoped that it is a Catholic understanding.

It is not clear from the text what “transformative Christian maturity” looks like. The chapter then moves to “Connecting with God,” “Connecting with each other,” and “Leadership that makes it all happen” as the three points of church growth and development. These are framed through the church’s purpose (“What are leaders trying to accomplish?” and “What is the vision and what is the mission?”) and systems thinking, a more business-like term for holistic theories of organization.

Pastor and author Rick Warren’s book The Purpose Driven Church, is used to illustrate certain principles guiding the changes at All Saints Parish. (On a side note, Rick Warren has caused a great deal of controversy within his own Christian faith tradition for promoting syncretism. See here and here for information on syncretism.)

According to Warren, there are seven influences in a congregation that leads to failure: Tradition, Personality, Finances, Programs, Buildings, Event, and Seekers.

Tradition is described negatively, as ‘perpetuating the past’ and ‘stagnation’. Buildings are understood to be standing in the way of progress: “Maintaining or building buildings is most important, often draining real ministry.” (Emphasis added.)

This points to one of three things: either the lack of a Catholic understanding of Tradition (and tradition), a rejection of them, or the thesis was aimed at an audience with little interest or belief in Catholic practices. What has always been of utmost importance to the Catholic faith—the worship of God through the Mass and the Holy Eucharist—is not addressed.

Next, Warren elucidates five purposes, each with eight components. The overriding emphasis is an inward one: My Witness, My Worship, My Relationships, My Walk, My Work. The ‘church’ provides such things as: A focus for living, a force for living, a family for living, a foundation for living, and a function for living. Nowhere are the sacraments mentioned.

Then the systems approach is again introduced, which is basically looking at an organization as a body, and putting the spotlight on each part and how it relates to the whole. If something is out of whack, systems thinking “looks at the patterns of behavior within the organization that may be impacting the behavioral dynamics and works to deal with these dysfunctional patterns.”

This type of diagnosing of an issue is very much in line with modern psychological methods. In fact, Deacon Dean states, “Within congregations, systemic thinking recognizes that managing the health (wholeness) of a congregation means managing the whole system of the congregation, especially the emotional systems.” He goes on to say, “Why has attendance dropped dramatically in Catholic churches over the past fifty years? Linear thinking might grasp at straws such as the implementation of Vatican II or the sexual revolution of the 1960’s. Either answer would be far too simplistic.” (Emphasis added.)

Systems thinking we are told, is able to see the issues from a far more intricate perspective, one that gets down to deeper levels to describe, diagnose, and then transform.

 The Borg
What is emerging here is a philosophy that looks upon individuals as parts of a system of being. Individual assumptions about right and wrong that drive the behavior of people are seen to be good as long as they are aligned with how the system as a whole thinks and acts. Those who cannot or will not dispose of their assumptions are seen to be a diseased element within the system. They either must transform their assumptions or be eliminated for the health of the system. Think Star Trek: The Borg.

This explains why there is such an emphasis on personal transformation. In order for a plan of ‘health’ to be implemented within an organizational system, the leadership must first gain personal mastery of the plan to be implemented, must fully agree with and integrate that plan into their belief system, and then initiate the rest of the organization’s individuals into the (belief) system. (Continued below.)

The Manifesto -- Part Six (B)


Generative Learning
To that end, an educative element of systems thinking, called ‘generative learning’, has been implemented in our parish. Generative is defined as a “style of learning that incorporates existing knowledge with new ideas based on experimentation and open-mindedness. This style of learning encourages individual and team creativity, resulting in a new way of viewing old methods. Organizations rely on the generative learning style to adjust to changes in the market, technology and society.”

Deacon Dean writes, “Generative learning occurs when we learn in a way that enhances our ability to be creative…Teams can engage genuine generative learning.”

The basis of generative learning is the process by which learners are guided to give up their mental models, their beliefs and assumptions in order to take on and assimilate the beliefs of the organization as a whole. This is a sophisticated technique of manipulation and control in order to gain a certain outcome. In fact, Edgar H. Schein of the MIT Sloan School of Management likens it to brainwashing.

In his essay, “Organizational Learning as Cognitive Re-definition: Coercive Persuasion Revisited,” Schein writes, “I would suggest that generative organizational learning puts most managers and employees into a situation comparable to the prisoner in a political prison. It is not a spontaneous joyful process to give up one’s beliefs, values and concepts in favor of untested and inimical new concepts and anchors for judgment. It is not a particularly comfortable situation to be subjected to re-engineering or culture change programs with the clear threat that unless one participates wholeheartedly one might lose one’s job.”

Schein goes on to say, “It may seem absurd to the reader to draw an analogy between the coercive persuasion in political prisons and a new leader announcing that he or she is going "to change the culture." However, if the leader really means it, if the change will really affect fundamental assumptions and values, one can anticipate levels of anxiety and resistance quite comparable to those one would see in prisons.”

He further states, “It remains to be seen whether the level of organizational change that is implied by "generative" learning can be accomplished without imposed culture change. And if such imposed culture change is involved we must accept the reality that learning may involve some painful periods of coercive persuasion. One of the most difficult aspects of this reality is that we cannot ignore that the same methods of learning, i.e. coercive persuasion or colloquially brainwashing, can be used equally for goals that we deplore and goals that we accept. In making organizations more competitive we may well resort to methods that under other conditions we would deplore.” (Emphases added.)

Understand what this gentleman is saying: that forcefully upending someone’s belief system in order to effect desired change is akin to coercion and brainwashing. Read Schein’s essay here.

This is not the way of Jesus Christ. This is not the way of the Catholic Church.

The Weakest Link
Explaining the rationale for targeted team building, Deacon Dean says, “Ideally, leaders want a team with no weak links, so when faced with weak links, leaders must either work to build up the weak links or eliminate them. People become weak links when they either do not want to move in the direction of the team, have a different value system that orients them in a different direction than the team, or they do not have the ability to keep up with the team. Values and volition are far more difficult to correct than abilities…” (Emphasis added.) The question is: What are the values, the beliefs of the organization?

Contrast the idea of body that St. Paul uses when describing the Church in 1 Cor. 12:12-17, Romans 12:3-8, or Ephesians 4:11-16. This body was not a mindless one-celled amoeba, this was a body with many different parts—Christians from many different points of view and personalities and economic circumstances, and so on. But the unifying factor is that the body is all one in Christ. The differences could be accommodated and worked through because of Christ Jesus. In fact, the differences and weaknesses are exactly what God uses to further His kingdom.

And compare the systems thinking organization with the twelve Apostles—men of differing careers, political beliefs, abilities, temperaments, weaknesses and strengths. They would hardly have survived a systems thinking organization!

Back to generative learning. According to Barbara Grabowski in “From Generative Learning, Past, Present, and Future,” “[A] learner is not a passive recipient of information; rather she or he is an active participant in the learning process, working to construct meaningful understanding of information found in the environment. The importance of asking the learner to generate his or her own meaning is clearly summarized...”  (Emphasis added.) This begs the question: What sort of information is in our parish environment? 

Self-assessment learning events have been implemented in All Saints Parish via such activities as the SWOT assessment presented last year (which can be a helpful process). Indeed, at a recent parish council meeting, members were engaged as a group in a self-assessment activity whereby they asked themselves self-generated assessment questions, which they answered together as a group and then graded their own progress.

As mentioned, some self-assessment tools can be helpful in a parish setting. However, they must always be measured according to whether they turn us to our Catholic faith, or away from it. The idea should not be to tear down our Catholic identity through subtle and persistent “correction” of our values and volitions, but rather to build up the Faith of our Fathers.

According to Wouter J. Hanegraaff, author of New Age religion and Western culture; esotericism in the mirror of secular thought, “In accordance with the ‘generative’ tendency…The idea of a universal process of evolution of consciousness, in which souls learn to evolve by learning self-designed lessons, is central to New Age beliefs about the meaning of existence…and ethics.” (Emphasis added.)

Furthermore, Hanegraaff says, “As for the essence of this New Age phenomenon, Melton has consistently claimed that the movement is held together by a generally shared concern with transformation:

The central vision and experience of the New Age is one of radical transformation. On an individual level that experience is very personal and mystical. It involves an awakening to a new reality of self—such as…the experience of a physical or psychological healing, the emergence of new potentials within oneself, an intimate experience within a community, or the acceptance of a new picture of the universe. However, the essence of the New Age is the imposition of that vision of personal transformation onto society and the world.” (Emphases added.)

Many well-meaning Christians, including Catholics, are unwittingly involved in New Age and syncretistic practices because they have been cloaked in ‘corporate speak’ or skillfully woven into a Christian narrative. In recent years, a New Age-y universalism (Rob Bell, The Shack and so on) has crept into the teaching and preaching of some high-profile Christian leaders, and there is a growing movement within Christendom to identify it and cast it out.

Team Development at All Saints Parish
According to Deacon Dean, Stephen Macchia’s book, Becoming a Healthy Team names the “defining measures” for building an effective team at All Saints Parish. According to Macchia there are five essential traits: Trust, Empower, Assimilate, Manage, and Serve.

On some levels, these traits and goals are good—as long as they reflect a truly Catholic understanding of the Church, the community and the organizational structure. However, when they stray into man-centered methods that focus on the process, an organization’s leaders can fall into a sort of inward hypnotic naval gazing. If the ‘who’ of a human team becomes the focus, it ultimately becomes about serving all the little ‘who’s’, rather than first worshipping and serving God, the ‘Who’ that should be the ultimate focus of a life of Christian service.

Deacon Dean writes, “Who is part of the team is more important than what the team is trying to accomplish.” Really? If nothing is more important than ‘who’ is on your team, I would posit that we have now left the realm of serving the Most Holy and His people, and have commenced a sports game of some sort—a fantasy football league, perhaps.

Later he writes, “Putting the “who” first also requires a willingness to let a person go who is not the right fit. Nevertheless, the time may come when a leader must bless an employee by releasing him or her to find their potential elsewhere…If an employee has been around for a significant period of time letting him or her go may also have negative repercussions in the congregation. However, it is worth the cost if employees cannot be part of a team.”

I can hardly imagine that the people who were ‘blessed’ by being released from employment at All Saints Parish felt blessed. In fact, the harm suffered by All Saints Parish when certain beloved employees were so ‘blessed’ continues to this day. (Continued below.)

The Manifesto -- Part Six (C)


 Mental Models
The phrase ‘mental models’ is a term for the way we see and understand the world. When used as corporate speak, it often denotes those ways of thinking that have become obsolete in the business world.

According to Deacon Dean, “In church ministry, mental models can become deeply ingrained. Early religious experiences, upbringing, certain theologies can create inflexible mental models on how to view the world, interpret situations, and come up with conclusions. Traditions run deep within religious denominations and congregations. For example, the Roman Catholic Mass remained virtually unchanged for over four hundred years until Vatican II. Today there are those strongly working to return to the Tridentine Mass. Perhaps in no other arena is stability sought than within the religious arena. While personal conversion typically involves a radical shift in mental models, Christians need ongoing conversion. Openness to the development of mental models in congregational leadership is essential for effective adaptability in a changing culture.” (Emphasis added.)

Everyone has heard the worn out phrase ‘Change is the only constant’. Most people understand the process of earthly life: birth, growth, decay, death. Human culture may always be in flux, but if one literally accepts that change is the only constant, then one is actively rejecting the LORD, who tell us in Malachi 3:6 – “For I am the Lord, and I change not…” And this from Hebrews 13:7-9 – “Remember your prelates who have spoken the word of God to you; whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation, Jesus Christ, yesterday, and today; and the same forever. Be not led away with various and strange doctrines.”

Is it Catholic to be open to the “development of mental models in congregational leadership” as a way to adapt to the culture? How does changing our leadership structures equip us to be better Catholics? Are we supposed to conform and adapt to the culture or are we supposed to be “in the world but not of the world?”

Pope Benedict XVI recently visited Germany. Before he arrived there was a spasm of negative press and the threat of large-scale opposition to his visit. It came to naught.

Interviewed about the Pope’s visit, journalist Peter Seewald (who reverted to the Catholic Church after spending time extensively interviewing then Cardinal Ratzinger), had this to say:
The fate of the Church

 "Later in the interview Seewald said the Pope came to Germany to draw attention to problems, because “he does not want a fictitious peace but rather one that is genuine. He is anything but someone who covers things up with nice words or tries to put make-up on the seriousness of the situation with massive events…Today things are so bad that many people know absolutely nothing about their faith.  They know nothing about the Gospel and the Sacraments,” Seewald said.

Nevertheless, he added, “The Pope gave appropriate directions. The fate of the Church and of the faith, he clearly said, is determined in the context of the liturgy and the Eucharist. True change is only possible through the transformation of the heart.” (Emphasis added.) 

Put simply, the successor of Peter wants to lead us to the sources.  And they do not belong to him or to the Vatican, but rather, out of them flows the ‘living water.’  And that a Church exists that protects and cares for these sources should make us feel happy and secure,” he said." 

The Holy Father, the Vicar of Christ, knows where true change comes from—the Eucharist, and not through rigorous cycles of persuasive coercion where our Catholic convictions are torn asunder and replaced with something else.

Below, I cite sources mentioned in Chapter 3 because it is important to note the lack of Catholic resources used. Aside from the Biblical authors, no Catholic Church leaders (popes or cardinals or bishops or priests or nuns) are mentioned. No current Catholic writers, no prominent Catholic laity, no mention of the Magisterium. None of the collected wisdom of the Catholic Church is noted. No writings of the saints. Nada. Nothing. Zilch.

Sources cited in Chapter 3 of Effective Church Operational Systems:
George Parsons and Speed Leas, Understanding Your Congregation as a System
Christian A. Schwarz, Natural Church Development
Stephen A. Macchia, Becoming a Healthy Church
Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline
Bill Hybels and LaVonne Neff, Too Busy Not To Pray
Gary McIntosh and R. Daniel Reeves, Thriving Churches in the Twenty-First Century
Yong-gi Cho and Harold Hostetler, Successful Home Cell Groups
Tony Dale, Felicity Dale, and George Barna, The Rabbit and the Elephant
Leonard Sweet, Aquachurch 2.0
James C. Collins, Good to Great
Patrick J. Brennan, Parishes That Excel (The lone book that could be considered to have a Catholic perspective, although it is ecumenical and was published in 1992.)
Robert K. Greenleaf and Larry C. Spears, Servant Leadership
Peter M. Senge, The Fifth Discipline

The Feast of the Archangels

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

St. Vincent de Paul

Today is the feast day of St. Vincent de Paul. Pray for us, St Vincent; that our parish churches be preserved; that our parish supports and encourages vocations; that the spiritual needs of parishioners are met; that our parish community continue its charitable good works for the poor and those in need.

Sunday, September 25, 2011


Just found out via LifeSiteNews that Paypal donates to Planned Parenthood, see here and here, as well as persecuting websites that uphold Catholic teaching on homosexuality.

So, you won't see a Paypal button at our website anymore. There are a couple alternatives that we are investigating, and we'll let you know when we find the one that will meet the need.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Manifesto - -Part Five

Changing the Biblical use of language and its imagery to one that is amenable to modern sensibilities is a common and sometimes effective approach when explaining theological concepts. But one must be careful, for the deeper meaning and intent of the Bible can be obscured when an overlay of modern, secular concepts darkens the spiritual light of Scripture.

“Theological Framework,” Chapter 2 of Effective Church Operational Systems, casts Jesus as a team leader, leading his disciples to a personal transformation that is eventually shared with the world.

Much of the wording used in this chapter is taken from Peter Senge’s “The Fifth Disicpline,” a book considered to be one of the premier management models in the business world. According to Wikipedia, Senge (a scientist at MIT) “has had a regular meditation practice since 1996 and began meditating with a trip to Tassajara, a Zen Buddhist monastery...He recommends meditation or similar forms of contemplative practice.”

Words and phrases from Senge’s book are used extensively in this chapter, such as ‘personal mastery’, ‘mental models’, ‘shared vision’ and ‘team learning’. According to Deacon Dean, “All are evidenced within the New Testament.” In some sense, perhaps.

Church leadership is described as beginning with the inner man. Once personal mastery is demonstrated, the leader is ready to implement his vision with those he has chosen. This is illustrated by Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness and his subsequent choice of followers.

The “ability to faithfully manage oneself and family are the criteria for selecting church leaders,” according to the thesis. This was and is, indeed, an important criteria as evidenced in 1 Timothy 3:1-7, which states that one desiring to be a bishop¹ “must be above reproach, the husband of one wife….He must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way; for if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he care for God’s church?”

Deacon Dean states, “The bishop, or community overseer, is to have no major moral failings and not obviously vulnerable to scandal. He is monogamous, but he is also not celibate.”² (Emphasis added.)

However, according to Haydock’s Catholic Commentary, “A bishop (the same name then comprehended priest) to be blameless, as to life and conversation, adorned, (says St. Chrysostom) with all virtues. See also St. Jerome in his letter to Oceanus. --- The[1] husband of one wife. It does not signify, that to be a bishop or priest he must be a married man; nor that he must be a man who has but one wife at a time; but that he must be a man who has never been married but once, or to one wife: because to be married more than once, was looked upon as a mark of too great an inclination to sensual pleasures. It is true, at that time a man might be chosen to be a bishop or priest whose wife was living, but from that time he was to live with her as with a sister. This St. Jerome testifies as to the discipline of the Latin Church.” (Emphasis added.) 

What is presented in this thesis is apparently a contradiction to Roman Catholic Church teaching regarding the Roman Rite, which includes within its priestly vocation the call to celibacy. The inference is that the vocation of priest also includes the vocation of marriage. While this may be true in some rites of the Church (and is the case in Christian sects outside it), it is not true of the Roman Rite, to which the author belongs. (As stated in a previous post, perhaps this discrepancy can be explained by the intended audience of the thesis, the professors at the evangelical Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.)

It is next asserted that there was a need for ‘team’ in the ‘early church’ [sic].  “The community prayed together, fellowshipped, and studied the apostle’s teachings. They gathered in people’s homes, in what would have been small groups.” Acts 2:41-46 is cited, though nowhere is a Catholic understanding of this Scripture presented.

In fact, readers are assured, “Today, now that cultural Christianity is waning, the contemporary church[sic] cultural climate may resemble more of what the church[sic] faced at its earliest beginnings than what it faced just fifty or a hundred years ago…What is attracting people to the Christian community are relationally based ministries such as small groups. Perhaps that is why the home church movement is growing so quickly today. It is likely that the early home church experience was heavily based on strong relationships. It certainly was not based on longstanding traditions and institutions.³ The early church [sic] built itself through the small, tightly knit communities.” [Emphasis added.]

There is a solid basis for disagreement with several of the above points. First, although paganism is seeing resurgence, the overriding enemy of the Christian faith is an aggressive secularism that has taken hold of many of society’s institutions, including education, science, business and politics. It seeks to suppress the public expression of faith and to force acceptance of values and goals that are inimical to Catholic faith and identity. Secularism was not around when the Early Church began.

Second, the question is, shall local church communities comprised of families, neighbors, friends, be structured within a largely artificial framework that blends competing philosophies, or a more organic and natural framework that springs from 2,000 years of Church experience and organization—which has its genesis in Holy Scripture and the Apostolic Tradition?

The Catholic principle of subsidiarity has a place within the parish. The idea is “that human affairs are best handled at the lowest possible level, closest to the affected persons.” And so the Catholic Church has nearly 3,000 dioceses worldwide, with local bishops, under which are pastors (priests), religious and deacons who serve in even smaller configurations called parishes. Within the parishes is the laity, who assists the pastor, religious and deacons, all living out their respective vocations, offering their gifts and talents to the parish and community. 

Because much of current Protestant evangelicalism is fragmented into groups of people who come together based not so much on the stuff of everyday life, but on denominational and worship preferences (hence the mega-church movement), the need to replicate what occurs naturally in a typical Catholic parish invites a plethora of different organizational units and systems. ‘Of the making of systems there is no end,’ to paraphrase Ecclesiastes.

And, although the ‘home church’ movement is yet another phenomenon of the ever-changing landscape of Christian expression, it is largely a Protestant movement. Statistics from the respected Barna Group give numbers that range from about 4% of individuals participating in a worship-at-home setting, up to about 30% of people saying they have been to a home Bible study or some other variation of a religious gathering of individuals in homes. It becomes a question of definition: What does the word ‘worship’ mean? To Catholics, worship most means to attend Mass and receive Holy Communion, which means attending a Catholic church, usually close by their homes.

However, to most Protestants, worship can mean other things and is not delineated in a particular location or within a particular sacramental liturgy. A Catholic who willfully skips Mass on Sundays has entered into serious sin. Not so for Protestants. Skipping a church service has no such stricture because it lacks stature as a sacrament. It is perhaps easier, but not better.

Third, Deacon Dean’s description of the Early Church seems to rely on Scriptural references alone and ignores the writings of the Apostolic Fathers (the immediate successors of the Apostles), who report that an organized liturgy centered on the Eucharist and a formal clergy emerged very soon in the Church’s life. The thesis also does not address the organic doctrinal and organizational growth that characterized the Church as she moved through the centuries.

A few good resources regarding this can be found here and here and here. This historical information is basic to understanding the Catholic Church and how, from an acorn, it grew into a tall oak. The idea that in order to express a proper sense of Church one must go back to the primitive Church (the acorn) is an idea that has gained purchase in some Protestant circles. As Blessed John Henry Newman (a convert) said after reading the Apostolic Fathers, "The Christianity of history is not Protestantism. If ever there were a safe truth it is this, and Protestantism has ever felt it so; to be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant.”

So, Chapter 2 is seen to be harkening back to the primitive Church as described Scripture and then leaping forward to secular 21st century leadership models to come up with a workable leadership plan to implement in All Saints Parish. The in-between development of the Church is all but ignored.

Deacon Dean writes, “To implement an effective operating system in a parish requires the development of a leadership culture that embraces the five disciplines [of] Peter Senge…We see these principles operating in the New Testament.”

Among the five principles are Systems Thinking, Personal Mastery, Mental Models, Team Learning and Shared Vision. According to the thesis, “Shared Vision creates a common picture of what the group wants to create.” Right here is a significant issue, because in all things, Catholics should be seeking what God wants, not what man wants.

The rest of the chapter is devoted to describing Jesus’ teaching interactions with the disciples in terms of ‘coaching’, of ‘disrupting people’s mental models,’ of ‘team learning,’ of gaining ‘personal mastery as evangelists,’ and of  ‘Jesus’ Strategic Way.’ Jesus is even described as a performance coach.

“Jesus had a clear mission to usher in salvation and perpetuate that Gospel everywhere through His followers. To accomplish this He created a leadership culture that would develop the right kind of leader who could carry out the task in the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Again, while the business wording may strike a chord with some, and there are certainly universal Christian concepts within Chapter 2, the idea that one must create a wholly new leadership culture within the parish is to set aside the model that has come down to us through the Apostolic Tradition, and which has worked throughout the Catholic Church’s history—in good times and bad.

The artificial construct of taking a secular leadership business model and attempting to surgically insert a Protestant theological framework and impose it upon a Catholic parish is problematic. It almost seems an attempt to recreate the Biblical Apostolic model in miniature, replacing the ordained hierarchical structure with the laity, disarmingly cloaked in today’s business language.

¹The New King James Spirit Filled Life Bible defines bishop this way: “An overseer. In apostolic times, it is quite manifest that there was no difference as to order between bishops and elders or presbyters…The term bishop is never once used to denote a different office from that of elder or presbyter. These different names are simply titles of the same office, “bishop” designating the function, namely that of oversight, and “presbyter” the dignity appertaining to the office…”

However, the Catholic Church teaches otherwise. Here is a description from “The Roman Catholic Church from Apostolic times has literally followed the Bible in the establishment of good order in the Church. According to Paul's letters to Timothy and Titus there are three orders to the organization and leadership of the Church (sometimes known as ecclesiastical order or hierarchy): episcopos or bishops, presbyteros or elders, commonly translated priests, and diaconos or deacons.
The first in order and the greatest in authority is the episcopos, the bishop.”

²The Roman Catholic Church has required celibacy of priests in the Roman Rite since the 6th century. It is a discipline that has as its basis the example of Jesus Christ in His life and words (Matthew 19) and in the writings of Paul, particularly in 1 Corinthians.
³This statement needs clarification, for the worship practices of the earliest Christians did resemble Jewish worship practices. New Christians, almost all of them Jews, continued to meet in the synagogue and observe Jewish feasts and festivals. There is a plethora of scholarship regarding the Jewishness of early Christian worship practices. For more information, see here, here and here and here. From New Advent: “Christ did not abolish at one stroke the ceremonies of Jewish worship. When it is said that He was satisfied with a wholly interior worship, thereby condemning exterior worship, the assertion is wholly gratuitous and is contradicted by facts. It is certain, on the other hand, that Christ went to the Temple to pray, that he celebrated the Pasch and the Jewish feasts; he received baptism from John, subjected Himself to fasting, laid His hands on the sick, drove out demons with exorcisms, and gave His disciples the power to drive them out in His name. It is almost certain that He carefully observed all the prescriptions of Jewish worship, for a deviation on one point or another would certainly have aroused protests of which some echo would have been preserved in the Gospels. The only point on which a protest of this kind was manifested was the observance of the Sabbath and certain prescriptions which the Pharisees followed in too narrow a spirit. The Apostles and disciples at Jerusalem continued to go to the Temple, as we see in the Acts (ii, 46, 47; iii, 1; v, 21; v, 42, etc.). By the worship in spirit and truth, which was to supplant the ancient worship, is meant less the form of a new worship than the spirit in which worship should be understood. Instead of adoring at Jerusalem or Garizim, men will adore everywhere; the believer will adore in his heart, no matter what his nation, be he Jew, Samaritan, or even Gentile. And he will adore not like the Jews or the Pharisees, with a purely external worship, with the lips, and in a formalist and hypocritical manner, but with a true and sincere worship, which supposed and implies a pure life and upright conduct.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Did you hear that the Horseheads Planned Parenthood just shut its doors? Yeah. It's gone. GONE.

Prayer is powerful.

The local Respect Life committees in our area have been praying rosaries in front of these abominations for years. Quietly but persistently.

Now it is your turn to join them.

This Saturday, 9 a.m., in front of the Planned Parenthood in Corning.

Catholic Roundup

Pope makes plea to spare life of Troy Davis. I love our Papa!

Cardinal Piacenza on women priests, celibacy and the power of Rome. This is one of the clearest explanations for the dearth of vocations that I've read. And then the cardinal gives us the remedy -- prayer, "intense, universal, widespread network of prayer and Eucharistic adoration that envelops the whole world, is the only possible answer to the crisis of the acceptance of vocations."

From the article:

"ZENIT: What about vocations? Would they not increase if celibacy were abolished?

Cardinal Piacenza: No! The Christian confessions in which, because there is no ordained priesthood, there is no doctrine and discipline of celibacy, find themselves in a state of deep crisis regarding "vocations" to the leadership of the community. There is also a crisis in the sacrament of marriage as one and indissoluble.

The crisis from which, in reality, we are slowly emerging, is linked, fundamentally, to the crisis of faith in the West. It is in making faith grow that we must be engaged. This is the point. In the same spheres the sanctification of the feast is in crisis, confession is in crisis, marriage is in crisis, etc…

Secularization and the consequent loss of the sense of the sacred, of faith and its practice have brought about and continue to bring about a diminution in the number of candidates to the priesthood. Along with these distinctively theological and ecclesial causes, there are also some of a sociological character: first of all, the evident decline in births, with the consequent diminution in the number of young men and, thus, also of priestly vocations. This too is a factor that cannot be ignored. Everything is connected. Sometimes the premises are laid down and then one does not want to accept the consequences, but these are inevitable.

The first and undeniable remedy for the drop in vocations Jesus himself suggested: "Pray that the Lord of the harvest will send workers into the harvest" (Matthew 9:38). This is the realism of pastoral work in vocations. Prayer for vocations, an intense, universal, widespread network of prayer and Eucharistic adoration that envelops the whole world, is the only possible answer to the crisis of the acceptance of vocations. Wherever such a prayerful attitude has a stable existence, one sees that a real turnaround is occurring. It is fundamental to watch over the identity and specificity in ecclesial life of priests, religious (in the uniqueness of the foundational charisms of the order to which they belong) and faithful laity, so that each may truly, in freedom, understand and welcome the vocation that God has in mind for him." [My emphasis]

Yes, as laity, we have a solemn responsbility to pray for the priesthood and vocations, and to encourage those who may have a calling. Today is an Ember Day (see here). Traditionally, it is a day to pray for priests. For more than enough reasons why, see article directly below.

Alberto Cutie is a jerk. Boy does this ex-Catholic priest conflate some issues!

Father Z's action item. Remember when the social justice mantra trumped abortion during the last presidential election? Those chickens have come home to roost. Time to write a couple letters.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Ember Days

Tomorrow begins the autumn Ember Days. According to New Advent, "Ember days (corruption from Lat. Quatuor Tempora, four times) are the days at the beginning of the seasons ordered by the Church as days of fast and abstinence." The autumn Ember Days begin after the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, which was September 14.

The Church instituted Ember Days early in her history. Pope Leo the Great believed that three of the four sets of Ember Days had been instituted by the Apostles. Ember Days are characterized by fasting and half abstinence for the purpose of thankfulness for God's gifts of nature and to direct us toward moderation and almsgiving.

According to, "Ember Days are days favored for priestly ordinations, prayer for priests, first Communions, almsgiving and other penitential and charitable acts, and prayer for the souls in Purgatory. Note that medieval lore says that during Embertides, the souls in Purgatory are allowed to appear visibly to those on earth who pray for them.

Because of the days' focus on nature, they are also traditional times for women to pray for children and safe deliveries."

According to folklore, tomorrow's Whit Embertide will foretell October's weather. :-)

Read about this week's Ember Days (Wednesday, Friday, Saturday) here. Here's an article about Ember Days in the 21st century at the National Catholic Reporter. H/t to Fr. Z, who also writes about Ember Days today.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Get over it, already!

A couple parishioners have shared that on Sunday Deacon Dean mentioned Providence Housing Development Corporation's offer to purchase St. Vincent's had been a complete surprise, and that the withdrawal of the offer should close the issue.

So let's traffic in some facts. In September or October of 2010, a parishioner contacted the director of PHDC, who revealed that it was either the Diocese or our parish who contacted Providence Housing about purchasing the St. Vincent church property. In either case, it was not a surprise to leadership. The councils and committees may have been surprised, but parish staff was not since it was initiated by them or the diocese. And certainly the diocese would've been in contact with leadership to discuss a possible sale  of one of its active churches.

Two, since the offer was withdrawn, there has been no public mention of the status of St. Vincent's, other than to say that an announcement would be made in the fall. In fact, as far as we know, there have not been any repairs or improvements to either St. Vincent's or Immaculate Heart of Mary, which remains for sale.

The way to rebuild trust and to help parishioners 'get over' what happened, would be to begin an open and honest two-way dialog with the parish as a whole. Ways this could be accomplished would be to hold open parish council, facilities council and finance committee meetings. For those people who cannot attend meetings, the meeting minutes and financial reports should be posted online and available through the bulletin.

Leadership could publicly announce that St. Vincent's will not be closed or sold, but will be maintained and cared for; the same goes for Immaculate Heart of Mary. We may be one parish, but we've been blessed with three churches. Part of the budgeting process should include a capital improvement plan and maintenance costs.

These steps would go a long way toward restoring trust and building community.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

New Look for Saving Our Parish has been undergoing a major redesign. Within a week or so the website and blog will be at one site: and it will have a whole new look. Friends of St. Vincent's (a 501c3 organization) will have its own page with an ongoing series of historical articles regarding our parish. There will be a Scripture page with an ongoing study and short video excerpts from a local Bible teacher. There will be a community page with lots of helpful information, book reviews and articles, and a prayer page devoted to the Prayers, Rosaries, Novenas, Devotions and Vigils of our faith. Lots more, too. You'll see...!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Exaltation of the Holy Cross

We adore thee, O Christ, and we bless thee,
for by thy cross thou hast redeemed the world.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Manifesto -- Part Four

Accentuate the Positives, Eliminate the Negatives
Much of the justification for the new leadership configuration of Effective Church Operational Systems is predicated on the priest shortage, not simply in numbers, but in training, skills, and temperament. What is advocated is a corporate style of leadership that takes its cue from the business world – a world that is primarily concerned with a profit/loss mentality.
Infused into this model is a Protestant congregational style of ministry that mimics evangelical circles in which there is a senior pastor in charge, with associate pastors involved in different ministries branching off, then various administrative employees, and a plethora of organized volunteers.
The reputation of priests as pastors suffers in this thesis and overall their characterization shows a feeling of ambivalence toward them. For example, “Most priests receive no organizational management training in their seminary years… In the DOR most priests become pastors after just six years of experience, the minimum required by Canon Law.”  
Or this: “Many parishes are beginning to cluster or merge. However, multi-congregational or multi-sited parish assignments were never envisioned. These situations require strong leadership and managerial abilities. A priest who could handle a small single parish may not have the skill set to run a large, multiple worship sited parish.” (My emphases throughout.)
And this: “In many dioceses, the number of parishes is beginning to outnumber the priests, let alone the priests who are actually capable of leading them effectively.”
Although the thesis treats positively some priests, particularly during the formation period of the Catholic community in the Corning area, many individual priests are described differently thereafter. For instance, Fr. Brennan is described as “dragging his feet” and being proud of his “old school mentality” when a flood of liturgical changes came in the 1960s. (On a side note, I have been told that at Fr. Brennan’s request, rosaries were placed in St. Mary’s after he died and during his viewing, with a tender and prescient imploring that parishioners pray for the future of the parish.)
Other pastors are described as headed for “burnout and breakdown”. It is said of one priest, “He tried to lead a community as a small parish leader when the situation really demanded a corporate style of leadership.”
Another priest’s pastorate is described as “detached and unconnected to the people” with a style of delegating as “much responsibility as possible…[his] weakness was that he had difficulty connecting with people on a pastoral level…he came across as aloof and distant…his approach to ministry was rather minimalistic. He advocated for the five minute homily and simplicity in liturgy.”
The first non-priest pastoral administrator of All Saints Parish was a religious, who had served as a pastoral associate in the parish. (Side note: Let us put to an end the dishonest title of ‘pastoral administrator’. Because it is canonically incorrect to have a lay-person, a religious, or a deacon as a pastor, our diocese has played around with the titles and appointed them as pastoral administrators. However, in all things, they reign as the pastor.)
She is described as having many difficulties. “On a personal level, [she] struggle[d] to communicate any sense of caring. Many perceived her as harsh and cold. She succeeded in alienating most of her staff to the point where staff meetings consisted of a mere exchange of information on a most minimal level.”
When she decided to close and sell St. Patrick Church before Immaculate Heart of Mary, the “outcry was loud and long causing many people to leave the parish. [She] also did not conduct a process to help lead the people through the closure…By 2006, in the word of many staff members, [she] was in shreds—emotionally and physically. She had endured long and ha[r]sh criticism for her best attempt to lead a parish through a difficult process, something that no priest in the Diocese of Rochester wanted to take on. In 2006 she resigned and began a sabbatical. The parish was again posted with no takers. This time the Diocese of Rochester invited me to take the job, to which I agreed.”
The overall impression is that priests are ill suited and unwilling to pastor parishes in difficult times. I think most in our parish would emphatically disagree with that notion. Nevertheless, this is one of the fundamental starting points for implementing the Strategic Way in our parish. Unfortunately, it all but abandons the priest/pastor model that is codified in Canon Law, a model that has served the Church well for centuries. Circumstances have not changed so dramatically that a virtual revolution is needed.
And, based on current results, it has not gone well. The very ‘solutions’ that have been thought up and instituted have caused more harm than any temporary priest shortage or financial difficulties. To place priests under lay leaders or deacons does not fit, cannot fit. It is an experiment. Even in the corporate world, where there has been a conscious attempt to at least give an appearance of equality among the highest and lowest in a company, this model fails in the application. True authority comes from God, and is ordered by God. The angels have a hierarchy. The human family has a hierarchy. The Church has a hierarchy. Priests are pastors. Deacons and lay leaders are not. It’s that simple.
To frame the priesthood as a negative and the laity as a positive is to pit two distinct vocations against one another in the attempt to take what divinely belongs to one and give it to the other.
Deacon Dean describes a three-fold vision of the priests in Corning after World War One. “First was the providing of the sacraments and chaplaincy services. Second was the provision of a Catholic school. Third was advocacy in following the teaching of the church [sic].” There were, of course, numerous programs to help the poor and aid the community as well.
The need to provide the sacraments, to provide for Catholic education, and to advocate for following the teachings of the Church has not changed. Not. One. Bit.
Yet, somehow these basic yet vital needs have morphed into a vision to “implement an operational process for the parish leadership that will clarify what it is we want to accomplish as a parish, clarify where are now in relationship to where we believe God wants us to be as a parish, develop a strategy on how to get where we want to be, establish a system for ongoing response for continued improvement, and build a leadership team where there is now only individual ministers.”
This is what happens when one abandons the way of the Catholic Church.
Next we’ll take a look at Chapter 2, “Theological Framework.”